Bringing back the ruckus over MUP
Laurie Muller, former chair of the Melbourne University Publishing board who departed early last year along with chief executive Louise Adler when MUP was directed to change its approach, was pretty surprised by comments university vice-chancellor Duncan Maskell made in The Sunday Age and The Sun-Herald on February 9. Muller was quoted in the piece but in additional comments said Maskell’s remarks about MUP didn’t stand up to scrutiny. ‘‘His comment that MUP ‘should be publishing high-quality books from the academic sphere’ and that ‘it could roll into publishing books based on academic subjects for the general reader’ is a description of what MUP has been doing successfully for decades,’’ a perplexed Muller said.
Muller, who ran UQP for umpteen years, published Peter Carey’s Booker-winning True History of the Kelly Gang among many other books, and is now a director of Thames & Hudson in Australia, said he hoped MUP could weather the changes forced upon it. ‘‘But it faces a difficult future with the Damocles sword of ‘if they don’t make a success of it we’ll have to think again’ hanging over it.’’ Muller wondered whether after a year in his position as vice-chancellor – Maskell was previously at Cambridge University where he was senior pro-vice-chancellor – he had really got to grips with Australian publishing.
Writing in the age of crisis
How should writers respond to the devastating bushfires of the past couple of months? Yes, many have helped raise substantial funds through the Emily Gale and Nova Weetman initiated #AuthorsforFireys campaign and in other ways.
But what about new work? Varuna, the national writers house, is offering what it’s calling ‘‘writing fire, writing drought’’ fellowships to encourage new writing in response to the crises. Five fellowships will be awarded to writers from regional NSW and outer-western Sydney.
The fellowships will consist of a fully supported one-week residency at Varuna plus writing consultation and professional development assistance. In a statement, executive director Veech Stuart said: ‘‘We are interested in writers’ response to the changes occurring in the world around us. Your writing might reflect climate, cultural, environmental, historical, political or social issues, and need not focus only on fire and drought — it may be that fire or drought is only one theme out of several in your work.’’ Applications opened this week and close on March 27. For more information go to varuna.com.au
A Becoming boost
It’s always interesting to see the distorting effect one big success can have on book sales. You only have to think back to the publication of some of the seven volumes of the Harry Potter books and their galvanising effect. In the United States, the Association of American Publishers has just reported on the market figures for last November, which showed publisher revenue down from $US613 million ($915 million) in November 2018 to $US448 million in the comparable month last year. That represents a drop of about 27 per cent in the first, critical part of the Christmas season.
However, mid-November 2018 saw the publication of Michelle Obama’s Becoming, which became a huge bestseller. Total books sales for that month in 2018 jumped by more than 15 per cent compared with the previous year and notably trade hardcover sales jumped by more than 28 per cent to $US470 million. Overall, the AAP said total revenue for the first 11 months of last year was up about 1 per cent to $US13.5 billion.
Undaunted by books
Back in November, Bookmarks reported on the daunting task faced by James Daunt to run the Waterstones chain of bookshops in Britain, his own Daunt bookshops and the beleaguered 629-shop-chain Barnes & Noble in the US. He was blunt about the B&N shops, describing them as crucifyingly boring. Now, according to reports from Britain, Daunt is going to implement some of the strategies he has employed at Waterstones, which recorded a 38 per cent jump in pre-tax profit last financial year.
He told inews that B&N was like Waterstones in 2011 – ‘‘not very good bookshops, not looking very nice. It’s a big mess.’’ He is planning more investment in the shops and to give individual shops much more freedom in terms of buying stock. ‘‘We had a pretty awful Christmas,’’ Daunt said.
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